SHEPARD CARVING HIS OWN PATH
For that one moment on a Friday night at the Sandman Centre…we were all Jackson Shepard.
The puck held in along the wall at the circle by Connor McDonald…thrown on goal, tipped… followed by jubilation.
Emotion takes over…and now you’re running on the ice, jumping into the glass. It’s a first. A WHL first for Jackson Shepard and it was written all over his face.
“(That first goal) was pretty indescribable. It was awesome. Easily the most memorable goal I’ve ever scored,” said the fresh faced Shepard still smiling from the memory from the home opener against the Kelowna Rockets.
Jackson and I are sitting down on the fourth deck as the Blazers steam through the gulf islands on the “Spirit of British Columbia” … a fitting name as I chat with Jackson on his journey to the Blazers and his little piece of Stanley Cup family history.
Oh to be 16 again. That feeling of indestructibility…like the whole world is in your hands, and the sky’s the limit.
Spend five minutes with the kid and he takes you back. That smile, that determination.
“I’m a pretty energetic guy. It was a big goal for the team and hopefully (the celebration) was appropriate for the moment,” he added.
It was a big goal. It seized momentum back from the Rockets after they tied the game moments earlier. Jackson’s goal saw the Blazers never look back. It turned into a 9-2 drubbing… the biggest margin of victory in Blazer/Rocket head-to-head history spanning nearly 300 games.
At 5’8”, 165 pounds Jackson knows the score.
“I have to prove myself every shift,” likely relaying teachings from a parent or old coach.
“As a smaller guy, there’s a lot of knocks against you,” he finished.
He wasn’t done that night. Later in the third period he’d crash the crease and bang home his second of the evening.
“Opening night was awesome… I can’t imagine a night like that again. The boys loved it. It was a heck of a night”
The player his teammates call “Shep” was a 2nd round pick of the Blazers in the 2015 WHL Bantam Draft. The Blazers didn’t have a first round selection but picked first in round two…drafting Shepard before the draft board could even reset after the 1st round selections.
“Draft day was pure excitement and joy,” he continued… “When my name popped up I had no intentions of going anywhere else. I was going to be a Kamloops Blazer.”
But Jackson and his family didn’t sign right away. Waiting to make sure the timing was right.
“My mom said follow your dream; follow what you want to do.”
Jackson and his family came to Kamloops later in the summer for a tour and for what the organization hoped would finish with his signature on a Standard WHL Education Contract.
Jackson recalled the day…
“I went for a tour of the rink and dressing room. I came in and there was one lone stall set up. It was the Blazer 3rd jersey with Shepard on the back with my minor hockey #2 on it,” smiling as he looked back.
I asked “Did that seal it for you?”
“(laughing), I kind of new before that day I was going to sign and be a Blazer but that was the cherry on top for sure.”
Jackson comes from NHL bloodlines. His great-grandfather Johnny Sheppard was a long time NHL’er who won a Stanley Cup with the 1933-34 Chicago Blackhawks. The ‘Hawks were a powerhouse club, backstopped by Vezina Trophy winner Chuck “Charlie” Gardiner in the crease. They would sweep their way to the championship, winning all eight playoff games. With team nicknames of years gone by like “Doc”, “Mush” and “Taffy” the Blackhawks were the toast of Chicago and the NHL.
Johnny…all of five-foot-six, 165 pounds was a Stanley Cup Champion.
Jackson tells me Johnny actually put a second “p” is his last name, to get away from his brother Frankie Shepard in the NHL record books. This generation of the Shepard family is back to the original spelling.
There’s even a story from yesteryear on a ferry boat ride. Apparently Johnny was teasing a limping Eddie Shore aboard the ship. Shore whacked Johnny with his crutches. Johnny reacted by stealing the crutches and throwing them overboard.
We gaze out of the window onto the deck thinking back to how that all would’ve played out.
“My dad told me…carve your own path,” as he fast-forwarded the clock nearly 90 years back to present day.
“I’m never going to let go of my enthusiasm, I’m not going to change the way I play, it’s my identity as a player”
For making us all feel like 16 again.